Reinventing Itself, New Details Makes Like Vanity Fair

What is the new Details ?

No longer a Condé Nast publication, it will be, under 28-year-old novitiate editor in chief Daniel Peres, part of Fairchild Publications, and is intended to be a fashion magazine for men. Who are young men. And are young, not necessarily gay men. And who are young not-necessarily-gay men who want a general-interest magazine.

It’s what Fairchild editorial director Patrick McCarthy called “niche general interest.”

“There will be wonderful fashion in this magazine,” said Mr. Peres. “It’s going to be part of what we’re doing.

“But I need to give the guy that doesn’t care that much about fashion something else to be interested in or otherwise, we’re not going to have an audience,” he said. “I really need to maintain a balance between fashion and design elements and the other things that men are interested in. We would be foolish not to do that.”

Mr. Peres said there had been no shift in editorial focus from two weeks ago when he said, “Straight men are interested in fashion now. One-hundred percent. We are interested in grooming.” Still, it sounds as if he’s moderated his vision: “We cannot do cover-to-cover fashion, style, shaving, grooming. What’s the point?”

Mr. Peres has led a steady stream of young writers through his office in recent weeks, and put together a pretty persuasive pitch. First, he talked about editorial freedom. According to writers who sat through it, his Details is going to be about “anything that men think about.” And resources. “They said, ‘if you need to fly at a moment’s notice to Buenos Aires on a story, we’ll fly you there,’” said one writer. Mr. Peres also promised exposure and word-of-mouth. “They didn’t make any bones about the fact that they are looking for buzz and scandal stories that would make it into the gossip columns.” And, of course, there was money. One writer said salary offers have crossed the six-figure mark.

“What they’re calling it is Vanity Fair for 30-year-old men,” one of those writers said. (Mr. Peres denies ever having said this, but did call VF “the Holy Grail of magazines.”)

So far, at least one writer has bitten. Kevin Gray, who has freelanced for New York magazine, has signed on. Also from New York is Maura Egan, a former assistant editor. They join former New York features editor Phoebe Eaton, who was hired as executive editor last month.

Since Details was shut down as a Condé Nast publication in March, Mr. Peres has worked from a corner office on the 12th floor of 360 Madison Avenue, a sort of no-man’s land between the Condé Nast building at 4 Times Square and the Fairchild Publications headquarters on West 34th Street, where he and his quickly growing staff will be moving in August.

A recent visitor said Mr. Peres’ office didn’t looked very worked-in–except for a pile of magazines that included GQ and Esquire . A week after Condé Nast shut down Details and fired its last Condé Nast editor Mark Golin, Mr. Peres and Mr. McCarthy began espousing a vision of a sophisticated fashion title for young men. But in recent weeks, according to some of the writers Mr. Peres has approached for his staff, the pitch has been heavy on general interest.

Mr. Peres is heir to a long line of magazine start-ups that has laid claim to the idea of being the Vanity Fair for some sub-group. Back in 1998, Sean (Puffy) Combs called Notorious , in which he had invested, a “new Vanity Fair for young people.” Likewise when Steve Garbarino took over Detour , he said he wanted to turn the title into “a young Vanity Fair with fashion.” Both magazines are struggling.

Visitors say that Mr. Peres is pretty adamant that he doesn’t want to be Maxim , FHM or Loaded– boorish. Nor Esquire or GQ , both staid.

“This men’s market is so saturated but at the same time there’s an enormous void. I know that’s a contradiction, but it’s true,” Mr. Peres said. “You have this huge T&A element, this kind of bathroom humor, these kind of lad books, on one side, and on the other side you have these hallmarks of men’s fashion. I think men today between the ages of 26 and 35, we’re a huge group of men. And no one magazine appeals to us.”

Esquire editor David Granger isn’t worried. ” Details has never been a big concern of mine,” he said. “It’s always been a magazine focused on an entirely different audience than mine and I assume that it will continue to be.” Nonetheless, Mr. Granger, who has overseen a mini-revival in the Esquire features well, said that Details , in its bid to encompass both a fashion-obsessed, straight male readership as well as those who couldn’t care less about the difference between Hugo Boss and Sandy Dalal, runs the risk of muddling itself. “You have to sort of earn your right to do a general interest magazine,” Mr. Granger said, “and one of the ways I had expected Details to succeed in the new format was to go hard at a smaller core audience who are interested in fashion. I think if you broaden it out and made it a big general interest magazine, it gets to be a more difficult proposition.”

Then Mr. Granger said, “You know, Patrick McCarthy is right about a lot of things. God bless ‘em.”

GQ publisher Tom Florio is not impressed by Details ‘ show of bravado. “I’ve launched magazines, and one thing that is so important is that you really want to be careful with your arrogance level when you’re coming out of the box and not overpromise,” Mr. Florio said. “I would probably let the world feel like they discovered it and were surprised.”

Mr. Florio also points to the readership figures from the second half of 1999, when the Condé Nast Details was still publishing. Details had 1.6 million readers aged18 to 34; GQ reached 4 million in the same age group.

“I would focus on why we should keep the damn thing going when nobody seems to be able to, rather than take on something that could just crush you,” Mr. Florio said. “But the next publisher will figure that out.”

In the end, though, Mr. Peres is his own proof of concept. When pressed on the existence of his demographic, he pointed to himself. “As a 28-year-old man, and as a man that likes to read magazines, not as a writer or an editor,” he said, “my age group, me, I am not being addressed … No one is really coming at me.”

The 69th issue of Grand Street will be the last the Soho-based literary magazine publishes for a while, on paper at least. In early July, the quarterly, founded by Ben Sonnenberg in 1981, will unveil a beefed-up Grandstreet.com.

Reached to discuss the decision, Grand Street editor Jean Stein was almost giddy about having an Internet presence. “Well–I love this language–that’s the soft launch,” she said of the July launch date. “The hard launch will probably be in September.”

Grand Street will publish an annual book, with the first edition not due until 2001.

Ms. Stein insisted that the decision was not made to save money on printing costs. Grand Street , which is a nonprofit enterprise, is supported by Ms. Stein’s family foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Rather, Ms. Stein said she hopes it will be able to reach a wider audience by focusing on the Web.

“I finally realized that we were really only reaching the converted whereas online it’s much less elitist,” she said.

Grand Street , with a print run of a mere 9,000, was caught feeling pretty small and puny in the world.

“Have you seen the literary magazine shelf at Barnes & Noble?” asked associate editor Ben Anastas. “There’s 30 literary magazines all competing for the same tiny readership.”

Ms. Stein’s first acquaintance with Feed came last July when the magazine asked to interview her.

“My daughter Katrina vanden Heuvel,” editor of The Nation , “said, ‘We heard you on Feed !’ and I …” Ms. Stein corrected herself. “They didn’t hear you, they read it, didn’t they?”

Stefanie Syman, Feed ‘s executive editor, has been advising Grand Street in its move to the Web. And the online incarnation of Grand Street will be an associate on the content network being organized by Feed , along with The Smoking Gun and Suck.com, which is also scheduled to launch in September.